Spotlight on the First Afghan Youth Representative to the UN

For young people in Afghanistan, June 19, 2018, was an important day. Following a rigorous open competition, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected to become the country’s first-ever Youth Representative to the United Nations. Read on to learn more about the UN Youth Delegate Program, why Afghanistan’s participation is important, and what’s ahead for the new Youth Representative.

What is the UN Youth Delegate Program and how does it work?

The United Nations welcomes and encourages youth to participate in its decision-making activities. The Youth Delegate Program was established to serve as the designated path for participation. At the global level, the program is coordinated by the Focal Point on Youth. However, it is up to each individual Member State of the UN to establish their own national youth delegate programs, and to choose or decide who will act as the youth representatives for their country. In countries where no program to select youth delegates exists, it may be necessary to lobby to have one created.

The roles and responsibilities of youth representatives may vary depending on the countries they represent, but most representatives are involved in matters such as providing input to their nation’s official UN delegations on youth-related issues and participating in the general work of their delegations. In addition, youth delegates are able to participate in any of the UN’s intergovernmental meetings, including the General Assembly, the functional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the Human Rights Council.

How was Afghanistan’s first Youth Representative to the UN selected?

Prior to 2018, Afghanistan did not have a national youth delegate program. The development and implementation of such a program required the effort and commitment of a number of different partners. The Government of the Netherlands served as the program sponsor and worked with groups including Afghanistan’s ministries of higher education, economy, and information and culture; the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; and Afghans for Progressive Thinking, an Afghan youth leadership organization, to establish the criteria for the program and create the selection process.

The open competition for Afghanistan’s inaugural youth delegate program attracted 60 applicants from all over the country. The candidates completed a multi-stage selection process that involved both video and in-person interviews. Finalists participated in a live debate hosted by the Bayat Foundation that took place on June 19, 2018, at the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Attending the debate were the four members of the selection committee: Stef Blok, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs; Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister of Economic Cooperation; and Sofia Ramyar, the executive director Afghans for Progressive Thinking, a professional organization for youth.

Following the debate, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations for 2018. The 28-year-old put himself through school by working as a street vendor, and today he is employed by the Dubai-based media firm MOBY Group. Bakhtiar is passionate about highlighting the struggles that Afghan youth face today and helping to build a brighter future for his contemporaries.

Why is it important for Afghanistan to have a Youth Representative to the UN?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population, or 63.7%, are under 25 years of age. Representing the promise of a new Afghanistan, this large, emerging cohort seeks peace, stability, and prosperity, but must contend with significant challenges, particularly when it comes to essential needs like health, education, and employment. Having a Youth Representative to the UN—someone like Ramiz Bakhtiar—who can show global leaders the face of Afghanistan’s new generation and give a voice to the unique issues they are facing—is an important way for Afghan youth to gain recognition and support in the fight for a better future.

What’s ahead for Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN?

One of Ramiz Bakhtiar’s most important responsibilities as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN will be to meet and engage with other young Afghans and hear their ideas for building a country that is tolerant, peaceful, and forward-looking. Specifically, Bakhtiar will canvass his peers for their views on the UN, politics, and what role the UN should play in Afghanistan’s future development. Social media platforms are expected to be a key part of Bakhtiar’s efforts to engage young people in Afghanistan, gather their opinions, and share his activities.

So far, Bakhtiar has already made significant progress in engaging with Afghanistan’s young people, and in September 2018, he became the first-ever Afghan youth to address the United Nations Security Council during the 73rd General Assembly session. In his address, Bakhtiar highlighted the problems facing Afghan youth and potential solutions. He also described his peers’ goal of transforming Afghanistan into a hub of regional connectivity and a rich cultural, artistic, and historic resource for the world.